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It was the same mundane routine today. Luckily, she was still able to get up on time every morning. She supposed that was something. Others had to buy giant light boxes that would turn on at a precise time, so the brightness would wake them up. It was a clever invention made by a woman a few decades ago. Before then, you were left to your own devices. And before then, Anabella didn’t even know what they had done. They had had other senses, so she’d supposed they used those contraptions called alarm clocks. Everyone always talked about them like they were ancient, which they were; but those people treated the clocks like they were some sort of stupid device. Anabella thought differently. She thought those clocks might have been quite nice, quite convenient.
It didn’t matter now though; she couldn’t hear a thing and neither could anyone else.
Today was the funeral. Grandma Bee. Sixty-six years old. A good, ripe age to die nowadays when the death toll in America was higher than ever and suicide rates were through the roof. Nobody talked about that, though. Anabella’s mother had been dead for twelve years and Anabella had never known her father. Few girls did these days, not in a time when sex and image ruled the world. Why stick around when there were adventures to be had?
Anabella dressed in a thin, black frock. Frumpy looking. Her family would disapprove, especially her brother. These days you dressed in the brightest colors you could find, even at funerals; the models wore their high fashion clothes and the actors wore designer suits and dresses and the sales clerks wore vibrant, pretty sundresses and teachers wore thigh-high boots and stylish vests and leggings. Dress your best. That was the slogan the current president used to win his election. He was a very handsome man and twenty-six years old. It seemed young to Anabella, but people were already criticizing him for some frown lines around his mouth. Anywho, Anabella wouldn’t have and didn’t vote for him. But, he ran unopposed so she didn’t vote at all.
Brother had already left. Timothy was stopping at the hairdresser to get a trim and then at a makeup hut they’d set up in towns so you could fix up your face at any convenient time. He had been worried for days about how he’d look at Grandma Bee’s funeral. Anabella supposed Grandma Bee wouldn’t care too much at this point, though.
When she was ready she ate and snuck into her car. By the looks of the hard, plastic seat and sharp edges it wasn’t a very comfortable setting. But cars weren’t made for comfort because no one could feel anything, so what was the use? The cars’ exteriors were extravagant, though, because everyone could see them, and it was important to show off what you had. At least in Anabella’s neighborhood.
As she drove she looked at the place in the car where Grandma Bee had once told her radios used to sit. What were radios? Oh, Grandma Bee had said, they were lovely machines that let out music. And what was music? Oh, lyrics and words and harmony and beats and drums and guitars and all the lovely things in the world mixed together. And what was a guitar? A drum? What were these things, Grandma Bee? But, then Grandma Bee had gotten upset and start having her flashbacks and she’d begin to cry and Anabella would soothe her and stop asking questions. It was for the best. No need to find out what you couldn’t and wouldn’t be able to have.
Sometimes Anabella would drive through the Bad Neighborhoods. The neighborhoods where everyone wore t-shirts and had dumpy looking cars and bikes and all the girls had brittle, bushy hair and the men were bald. These were the people everyone whispered about. The unfortunates. The poor. The pathetic.
Anabella was intrigued by them. They seemed so unhappy with their lives. Poor things. But, what about Anabella? Certainly she had more than them, and she had been blessed with beautiful, soft hair and long eyelashes and a perfect body, but she wasn’t nearly happy. Not nearly.
But, if you had to choose between two unhappys, wasn’t it better to be the unhappy that Anabella had, where you could wear nice things and drive fancy cars? Yes, that had to be better.
But, what about the rumors? That the Bad Neighborhoods were able to hear things. They didn’t have to read lips. They could watch TV and hear voices. And, if some sort of contraption should come along, like the peculiar radios Grandma had talked of, they could hear the sounds emitting from them.
She’d also heard a rumor that they could taste. Sometimes they ate and drank and tasted for pleasure. Timothy had told her this. He’d been disgusted.
“Only those poor rats would eat for enjoyment.”
Don’t we drink for pleasure? Anabella had asked her older and wiser brother who promptly snorted.
“Anabella, alcohol intoxicates us and lets us enjoy ourselves. We’re the best of the best, darling. Shouldn’t we enjoy ourselves? Shouldn’t we lavish in our beauty, in our Godliness?” Anabella watched his full, pink lips open and stretch and widen into a beautiful smile, like some sort of large, majestic creature with glistening teeth and dark, shining eyes.
These were the times when Anabella was glad she couldn’t hear anything. Sometimes, she supposed, she liked her lonely life. She liked being encased in silence.
Anabella pulled over in the parking lot. It was night and dark out. The moon hung in the sky, and it looked heavy and it was glistening like some massive, sweating crescent. It struck her how far away it was. So far removed from anything.
The word galaxy came into her head. Nowadays the only children who went to school were the poorest children who were chosen to become doctors at young ages. This way, the ugliest ones could spend their time making up solutions and treatments that we, the best of the best as Timothy had said, could become more beautiful. The scientists were very important, but not appreciated at all. They lived in the wilderness somewhere far away where they spent twelve hours a day experimenting new beauty procedures. They were not allowed to read lips because they were not allowed to talk to anyone. Their sole goal was to research, experiment, and then create. Day in and day out. Anyway, the point was that Anabella didn’t really know what a galaxy was but she knew it was something gigantic and mysterious and completely unattainable. It was a place no one could travel the length of, a place that held the mysteries of the world. She wondered if it had the answers to life as well.
Anabella squirmed in her seat. She picked up the cotton fabric of her sundress and held it in her hands. She wondered what it felt like. She couldn’t feel anything. It was almost as if nothing was there at all. Something told her she should feel sad about this, or angry, but there were no emotions. Nothing came at all.
The truth was, Anabella wanted answers to the Big Questions in life, but she didn’t know what the questions were. She knew there were things out there, people out there who maybe didn’t look like she did, who didn’t have the same angelic face and blank personality, but there was no desire out there to find them. There was nothing inside of her because she was an empty shell, a box with nothing inside, a basketball without any air to fill it up.
But, there was a glimmer of something within Anabella. It emerged when she had been around her grandmother and she had told her about the past, about radios and giant buildings where children came together to learn and pages and pages filled with words that told a story. It had been there as her Grandmother had tried to make herself cry to no avail.
Anabella hadn’t understood. She’d never seen anyone cry, and she didn’t grasp why someone would want to cry.
“Don’t you see? Don’t you see?” Her Grandmother had said with shining, desperate eyes. “Don’t you see I want it to mean something?”
And then, Grandma had died and Anabella would never find out what it meant.
A knock on the window came and Anabella turned, startled. It was Dennis. He wore a freshly pressed suit and his shockingly green eyes smiled at her. She rolled down her window.
“Let’s go, beautiful.” He grinned. “Time for the party!”
And then Anabella remembered why she had driven here. It was another party to go to. That’s what funerals were these days, just parties where everyone would toast the deceased and drink to them again and again and then again until they were all just Goddamn drunk. It was just another night to drink and drink and dance and watch the other people like her. Because that’s what people like Anabella did. They watched and they admired and the only feeling they had was an intense, vicious jealousy. A jealousy that drove them to undergo surgery and cosmetic procedures so they could be prettier than that woman, so they could be stronger than that man. And then the process repeated because they would find a different person who was more attractive and then they became the next competitor. And it kept going and going.
Dennis wrapped his arm around Anabella’s waist and they walked into the large, extravagant building. It was dark and lights were flashing on and off and she could see people chatting in every corner, dancing provocatively on the dance floor. It was all very glamorous.
They went over by their group. Each group became friends with a set of people who were their equal in terms of their attractiveness. Everyone pretended they loved each other and hugged and kissed and groped and told one another how fabulous they were. It was all fake. The goal was to always become better looking then the set you were in so you could get into the group of another set of people. And that process continued.
“Oh, darling, darling we were waiting for you,” Miranda kissed Anabella’s cheeks and whipped her long, wavy hair over one shoulder, the tresses catching the glint of the fluorescent lighting and shimmering in response. “We already had our toast. We all drank this fabulous wine for Old Bee.”
“Where were you? Tell me you didn’t go through that awful neighborhood,” Timothy said.
“She wouldn’t do anything like that,” Dennis wrapped his arm tighter around Anabella and laughed his hot breath in her ear.
“You really shouldn’t,” Patrice said, appearing out of nowhere. She was a short, voluptuous girl with soft orange hair. She was only 5’1, and it made many of the tall girls angry. Short girls weren’t supposed to get into a group like theirs, at the extreme level of attractiveness. There were cosmetic surgeries, many of the girls argued, that she should have been required to get before being admitted into our group. Her figure was her saving glory.
“The place is a pig sty,” Miranda agreed.
“Don’t worry, she hasn’t gone anywhere near the s*** hole,” Dennis said and she looked at his mouth, opening into a laugh. He looked wonderful, but she did not feel any sort of attraction towards him at all.
“Meet our new girl,” Patrice said, and pulled over a very tall woman with a straight nose and full, pouting lips. “This is Monica.”
I stood very still. “What happened to Angie?” I said very quietly.
The rest of the group stiffened. Angie had been in our group for the last 8 months. If she had been moved up a set, you weren’t supposed to mention her. Once someone left a set, they were gone forever.
Miranda glared at Anabella with a fierce, unwavering stare. “She gained 20 pounds, if you must know.”
“I heard she would just get home at night and eat everything in her house and then collapse,” Patrice said and giggled in spite of herself.
“I’ve only ever heard rumors about people like that. I didn’t think it was true,” Dennis rolled his eyes.
Miranda grabbed a beer out of the cooler beside her and gargled half of it down. “It’s so…I don’t know, animal.” The group giggled.
She could see the rest of her friends getting more drunk as their shook their hips a bit from side to side and licked their glossy lips and patted their shiny hair.
“Do you think she’s….OK?” Anabella asked hesitantly.
The group turned towards her, with strange, bewildered expressions on their faces.
“I mean,” Anabella gulped nervously. “There would have to be something wrong, you know, for her to do that.”
The group shifted uncomfortably, took sips of wine and beer and played with their hair. Timothy was the first one to break the thick, hot silence of unmoving lips, unwavering, icy glares, with a smile.
“Let’s dance for Grandma Bee,” he said with a smile and Miranda grabbed Timothy and Patrice went in search of a man and Dennis grabbed Anabella and pulled her by the arm onto the dance floor and there were flashing lights and moving, thrusting bodies and everyone was absolutely lovely, absolutely beautiful and everyone was happy and swinging, dancing and putting their arms in the air and Anabella forced herself to smile, to grin because she was truly happy. In every way.
She was, with certainty, the happiest person in the room.